How to Customize Office 2013 Backgrounds & Themes

In Office 2013, Microsoft’s latest productivity suite, the company decided to let users add a bit of “personality” to their applications with custom backgrounds and themes. They are subtle changes, to be sure, but if you’d like to change the look of Word, Outlook, or any other Office 2013 app, here’s how:

Office 2013 Backgrounds & Themes

First, open an Office 2013 application; we’ll use Word 2013 for this article. Click the “File” button in the top left corner of the window to open the File & Info page. Next, select “Options” in the blue column on the left.

Office 2013 Change Theme Background

In the General tab, look under the “Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office” section. There are two drop-down boxes at the bottom: Office Background and Office Theme. First, backgrounds.

Office 2013 Change Background

In the current shipping version of Office, there are 14 backgrounds to choose from. “Background” is a generous term, however, as these options only change a gray graphic in the upper-right portion of your Office apps.

Office Backgrounds 2013
A sample of some of the new backgrounds in Office 2013.

To change your background, select one of the items from the drop-down list and then press OK at the bottom of the “Word Options” window to enable your changes. You’ll instantly notice that the graphic in the top right banner of your window has changed.

Office 2013 Change Theme

You can further customize the look of Office with themes. To change your theme, head back to File > Options > General and this time select a drop-down option from the Office Theme box. Your three choices for theme are White, Light Gray, and Dark Gray. As before, select your theme and press OK to enable the change.

Office 2013 Themes
Office 2013 Themes (from left): White, Light Gray, Dark Gray.

Themes change the color of the menus and backdrop of the working area. Pages, email messages, and spreadsheet backgrounds are still white regardless of theme selection. While more noticeable than Office Backgrounds, the Themes are still a very subtle way to change the overall look of Office.

Microsoft’s new strategy is a strong push for a uniform user experience, resulting in few options for a user to customize the look of their Windows and Office installations. Still, if you’re looking for just a bit of flair, check out Office Backgrounds and Themes.

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  • Domush

    I came here hoping this would be a helpful article, instead it describes how to modify the shade fo blindingly ugly Office 2013 already has. I’m moments away from throwing away the benefits of 2013 and moving back to 2010, simply because of the awful look and feel of 2013.

    • http://www.tekrevue.com/ TekRevue

      Indeed, as the article states, Microsoft limits users to “subtle” changes only. Perhaps they’ll change their stance with future versions. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Chris Wheeler

        Come on Office Team, so many people complaining about the 2013 theme. It is not just bad it’s awful! I have used it for several weeks now and it is not getting any better, in fact It gives me headaches after a short period of use. The dark grey 2010 background was far more preferable for me. I don’t know a single user of 2013 that likes this interface, in fact several I know have already reverted back to 2010. Decisions to upgrade to 2013 company-wide are based on user feedback. With many thousand licences at stake with this one company I really think MS should give this some thought.

        • Sachin Gupta


    • Claude Stevens

      LOL… yep 2013 is worse than 2010. Thought it was supposed to be better. Same crappy “ribbions” and now we have the “Smooth Typing” that makes the cursor appear to lag for all touch typers (pecking folks wont notice).
      You would think M$ would do focus group testing to see what customers WANT… not what some developer thinks is cool.

  • Cris Valenzuela

    The color limitations brings credence to the old 1984 Apple
    commercial. We must all conform to boring MS battleship gray.


    • Claude Stevens

      Wow…I was trying to put my finger on what the new theme reminds me of….YEP…the Old 1984 first introduction of the Apple Macintosh…lol

  • Milton Dudley

    Oh boy, white, light grey and dark grey. What a choice in a color world. Let’s hope they might stretch and give us a dark blue… or, dare we hope, the option to set our own.

    • Eric Maier

      You’d think they’d at least include the color of the application. For example, Excel could have a green option, Word a blue one, etc. I just installed this yesterday and, wow, is it ugly.

  • Nova Terata

    Microsoft is the DPRK of software cultures. What kind of Orwellian Newspeak is their definition of Dark in this case?

    • Roake

      I agree. I sooooo agree.

      p.s. It’s been a long time since I heard someone use North Korea’s real name.

  • Mark Yelka

    When I open Outlook Calendar, I find it incredibly hard to find Today. I wish Today could have an accent color that was very different from the powder blue motif. It just doesn’t stand out. In fact, nothing about the new Themes stands out. Exceedingly misguided thought went into the human factors of interface design, apparently.

  • Kraig Vruggink

    Ok, I don’t know what different program I will use,.. but I cannot stand to look at this. I could not be more disappointed. I wont even try to begin to describe the look of this program. Is it a security thing, So its easier to for the NSA to track us?? Or….. maybe they get so many calls cause people change their settings and cant get them back… Either way I don’t mind not having options, but for Christ sake, give me something I can tolerate viewing.

  • PlacidAir

    Why does EVERYTHING have to look like it’s a browser-based experience? And, why the flaming hell should I have to log into the internet to type a letter? This is such crap it’s not even funny. The firm I work for is talking about migrating to this… honestly, if they do, I think I’ll take a job elsewhere…. utter, utter crap.

  • DigitalPencil

    Isn’t there a Dark Purple theme? Can you show how this one is done??

    Anything even remotely close to this would be an excellent improvement.

    Many thanks.

  • Tay Ruong

    The lack of a distinct border makes it impossible to work with multiple windows open. I’ll stick with 2010 until they fix that.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    Why is it that firms like MS and Apple make changes to their products that EVERYONE hates. Apple updates for iTunes are poor, less useful than previous versions and don’t look anything like GOOD.
    MS Office 2013 is THE most ugliest thing I have ever seen. Why can’t there be a decent design and colour scheme?

  • Alex G

    the theme is really depressive and noxious, can it be any worse? look at the screen, feels like i am in the hospital, and possibly ICU. If MS just want to push everyone to Mac family, yeah, you have done it by making the 2013 like this, congratulations!

  • Achmed Ded Terrorist

    Office 2013 is like staring at a small section of the side of a battleship

    flat and grey

  • Polly Rz

    I need a darker color, dark gray is too light, i can;t work this way and i don’t have the option to move back to 2010, Do something

  • Todd Newton

    This ‘article’ is useless, filler bull$hart. Get off the internet.

  • Trond Noren

    Yes, I can not tell you how shocked I was seeing the Office 2013. Useless is an understatement. I just cannot uuse it, my eyes are sore and snow blind after just 2 days. Unbelievable what MS think when they do something like this.
    Productivity is certainly down due to all the changes that just makes it diffficult to see.
    On top of this they do changes to things that worked to things that just take longer time to do.
    Before I could right click and save a document to pdf or anything…now I must go through Export and so far it seems I can only save as pdf. Why do things like that? No reason..no gain…just pain.
    Yes, I will recommend we all go back to Office 2010 here in the company, this is useless.

  • Rex Savage

    It’s gray world after all. Leave it to Microsoft to find a way to give the Surface tablets one more underwhelming feature with it’s Office 2013 Soviet style interface. It’s almost as if they don’t want people to enjoy their products in any way. This may explain the effort by Gates to fund school programs that stamp out identical, boring, unimaginative little consumers and worker bees.
    I’m embarrassed to be a shareholder.

  • JonnGriffin

    This is all about using the options MS has given you in 2013. That’s not customization. I loved Office 2010, but this is without a doubt the ugliest office version I’ve ever seen. For God sake the original windows operating system had more color than this. Why didn’t MS just take the very nice interface of 2010 and change the functionality behind it? The lack of color and definition and the changing of simple things that were useful astounds me.

  • Roman Flachs

    Microsoft!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are a bunch of STOOGES……. I really don’t like wearing my sunglasses when using Outlook 2013

  • Greg Girten

    “Microsoft’s new strategy is a strong push for a uniform user experience,
    resulting in few options for a user to customize the look of their
    Windows and Office installations. Still, if you’re looking for just a
    bit of flair, check out Office Backgrounds and Themes.”

    We are Borg…you will be assimilated…

  • Piotr

    I wrote a 166 sites document in one week and belive me, I have something with my eyes now. I’m wearing glasses and can work with MSVS2010 or MSO2010 for many hours without any problems. MSO2013 has gone way too far with UI. I will rollback to MSO2010 next week.

  • My_Name_is_John

    In looking for a way to try and ease the eyestrain I am getting, I find that MS has ignored customer complaints about the themes since the beta version in late 2012. Looks like it’s time for a class action suit from everyone subjected to this. I have actual headaches ( as in damages) I get from it

  • MikeBacker

    PLEASE someone tell me there are other Theme options – WHITE, LIGHT GRAY, DARK GRAY, that is it ????

    This has been a complete disaster trying to implement new Office 365 (Latest Office 2013 version) across our company. EVERYONE is complaining that they are having difficulty seeing their work effectively. Eye strain is a common complaint.

    SURELY, Microsoft has a solution or there is some company out there that has an add-in we can BUY to create a pleasant UI for Office 2013.

    Really, How could Microsoft screw this up so badly and not have a decent fix by now. Office 2013 was released almost 2 years ago……..

    Please tell me I am missing something……

  • Steve

    Unfortunately my network administrators don’t let me test this to see if it works, but this might be a fix??? Can anyone tell me?


    • Walusako

      That is for a theme not background?

  • killy_sd

    Boss made me upgrade to this for the simple reason she has it and hates it. Very difficult on the eyes and extra steps for many processes that makes no sense. When I asked why I had to change to this version, she said because she had to. Isn’t that lovely? Almost every office is chained to MC Office and they sure seem to be aware of it. I’m with the others that say we need a class action lawsuit. Only one day using it and I already have a headache from the bright white and not so very dark gray.

  • tbh1138

    >customize your theme
    >choose between white, white or almost-white

    I don’t think MS knows what “customization” means. Or “dark gray.” I wish they had a “black” theme, but based on these themes it’d be light gray at best. Anything else wouldn’t scorch my retinas with the fury of a thousand exploding suns, and we can’t have that now, can we?

    I have a dark Windows theme installed, and switching to Office from anything sanely-designed requires a pair of sunglasses, welding goggles, and at least one 8-inch layer of solid lead.